Lack of heat dims enthusiasm

November 01, 2001|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ELVIS told me to go to Chicken Out.

A sleek, black cat named Elvis, that is. He lives next door to friends who bring home food from Chicken Out often. Every time they do, the King yowls at their back door, frantic for some of that rotisserie chicken.

Having the utmost respect for any feline's opinion, I went to the Gaithersburg-based chain's attractive wood-and-tile outpost in Pikesville to see what Elvis was howling about.

He has his reasons; the chicken was good - tender to the point of falling off the bones. A rotisserie turkey was tender as well. But both lost points in the temperature category. While cats might prefer tepid food, most humans do not. On the two visits we made, the poultry came to the table lukewarm. In fact, the only truly hot item we consumed was the chicken potpie that we reheated in the oven at home.

The lack-of-heat problem surfaced also in a side order of macaroni and cheese. In that case, it ruined what looked like a promising rendition of the beloved staple. Same for the turkey gravy. However, the problem wasn't bad enough to deter us from enjoying a platter of pulled chicken smothered in smoky, sweet, tomato-based barbecue sauce.

A counter-service-only restaurant, Chicken Out offers an impressive array of salads (several, of course, made with chicken) and side dishes. The mashed red-skin potatoes were outstanding, from the creamy texture to the peppery dressing. The cinnamon-laced chunky applesauce could not have been better, either. Scoring next highest was the surprisingly good combination of fresh spinach creamed with artichoke-cheese sauce.

More apples would have improved the apple cornbread stuffing, and many more apricots were needed in the chicken salad with apricots. While we liked the tart taste of the mandarin-walnut-cranberry relish, we thought the texture ran on the watery side.

Bringing up the rear was a rubbery pasta vegetable salad and thin, bland mashed sweet potatoes.

For value and taste, Chicken Out's $6.99 chicken potpie cannot be beat. Inside the flaky crust are lots of white-meat chicken, peas, carrots and rice spread over a layer of mashed potatoes. We got six decent servings out of ours, and each tasted as good as that first piece did on the day the pie was made fresh in the restaurant.

Given the more-than-generous portions customers receive at Chicken Out, desserts can be tough to squeeze in. Two of us barely finished one slice of the largest chocolate cake ever baked. The moist, light taste of the cake got lost in the overly sweet frosting. On our second visit, we tried - and greatly preferred - the tart lemon silk cheesecake. Like the chocolate cake, it was made by an outside bakery.

Currently, there are two Chicken Outs in the Baltimore environs, one in Columbia and the one we visited in Pikesville. The former is one of 27 restaurants that the company owns in Maryland, Washington, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. The latter is the company's first franchise, owned by Jeff Pollino. He plans to open several more over the next 12 months in the Baltimore-Annapolis area.

To Elvis (and other fans of chicken dishes), that's fine news.

Chicken Out

1809 Reisterstown Road,

Pikesville

410-484-5401

6270 Columbia Crossing

Circle, Columbia

410-872-8600

Open: For lunch and dinner daily

Credit cards: AE, MC, V

Prices: Appetizers $1.49 to $4.49 (soups); entrees $3.99 to $8.49

Food: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

Service: ** 1/2

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